crying on cue (chapter 4)

glass tears

(photo by ::fotorosso:: on flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotorosso/)

“My first impression is that you’re just too damn tan for the role.” Lang Westwood has her foot propped rudely up on the desk in front of her. It’s a real handmade boot made of stiff leather with dirt in the cracks and a well-worn sole. She displays it now for the popular young celebrity/actress as a sign.

But the girl doesn’t seem to mind. She answers, “You’re right. We’re done shooting my current project next week so I’ll be able to lose the tan by April.”

“Can you speak nineteenth century southern belle?”

“With some help.”

“Have you had plastic surgery?”

“What do you think?”

“What do I think, indeed.” Lang leans back in her chair.

In the journal Lang kept in grade school, she kept a list of things she found visually and spiritually interesting: deserts, wind patterns in sand, Bedouins, gypsies, flocks of birds, crows, nests, abandoned houses, ghettos, ghettos’ ghettoes, industrial waste, old churches, architecture, Gaudi, the faces of blind people, Beethoven , Miles Davis, dissonance, disease, scars, poor dental hygiene, defects, asymmetry, inconsistency, postmodernism, Pre 1950, black and white, old people, minimalism. If she were to add to that list today she would certainly include children, but not perfect children.

And she also wouldn’t include actors who aren’t actors. Even though the young woman sitting in front of her isn’t wearing makeup and looks more substantial than Lang had anticipated, the girl is completely wrong for this part. This is a part for a woman, after all, not a newborn fashion trend, and where is the challenge in making beautiful things beautiful? Lang twitches in her boots and rakes her fingers through her hair.

Because the producer likes her. Even though Lang Westwood is an authentic, autonomous, award-winning director who only uses unknown actors in untold stories in unfamiliar locations, but Jake the producer likes Mae Beacon. Of course he does. Just look at her. Even though Lang’s latest films have won all the awards the box office numbers fail to impress and she knows that if she wants a long, serious and well-funded career, her next project has to net at least $30 million domestically, maybe $50M. The only way to make that kind of money without compromising herself is to make a concession on either the story or the talent. Jake, who knows how to make films that make money, is set on Mae Beacon.

Lang’s stomach feels sour and hollow. This morning she fixed oatmeal for her daughter Eleanor, but she had only coffee herself. She had been too irritable to eat. As Eleanor spooned honey, she had looked up and said, “I’ve got just one question.”

“What’s that?”

“If you don’t like her then why are you going to hire her? I mean, what happened to all your staunch faithful philosophical opposition to compromising your artistic integrity?”

Lang had to laugh. Coming from a twelve year old, these words were absurd. “It’s complicated. Some day you’ll understand.”

“It’s about money, isn’t it?”

“I can’t hide anything from you, can I?” Eleanor stirred her oatmeal, waiting. “No, it’s not just the money. I don’t want the stinking money. I just want the freedom that money can give. Freedom isn’t free, you know. In fact, it can be quite expensive.”

“That’s a cliché.”

“You’re right, Elle.”

“Can’t you make money and make art, too?”

“I don’t know. Maybe you can. I hope you can.”

Through a mouthful of oatmeal Eleanor said, “When I grow up, I’m going to be stinking rich. I’ll give you all the money you need.”

That’s exactly the kind of thing Lang would have said at that age. When Lang was eleven, she and her four younger siblings moved closer to Sydney where her mother found work in a shoe factory on the edge of town. Lang’s father Vincent, a Koorie aboriginal, had recently left them and although her mother was white and fairly well educated, she had no work history and that was the only job she could find. When Lang discovered her mother all alone at the kitchen table one night crying into a plate of cold potatoes, Lang chucked her arm around her mother’s shoulders and solemnly promised to take care of Magali, who was still too young for school.

On the hottest days, while the other kids were all at primary school, Lang and Magali would walk or hitch a ride if they could to the nearest movie theater where they’d sneak in and hide in the balcony. The theater manager knew they were there but didn’t seem to mind, as long as they stayed out of sight and kept the theater tidy. 1966 was an excellent year for movies: They’re a Weird Mob, Born Free, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Farenheit 451, The Group, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf , The Endless Summer. They’d watch all day, eating leftover popcorn and the crusts of meat pies or any other greasy bits they could find in paper bags left on the seats.

Lang told her mother she’d help and she did; Elle takes after Lang in that respect. But this actress doesn’t look like she’s ever helped anyone but herself.

Lang swings her foot to the floor and sits up in her chair. She tells Mae, “I must admit that I’ve seen your work, of course. You have panache but you’re not really my type.”

Mae doesn’t blink. “I know.”

*

*

I have reserved the rest of this chapter for interested readers, agents, and publishers.  If you want to read more, contact me at anna@girlinthehat.com.  

Question: I still worry that these characters might not be sympathetic enough. What do you think? Do you like any of these characters? Do you need to like them?

About girl in the hat

aka Anna Fonté, writer of novels, short stories, personal essays, and bits about the neighborhood crows. The things I write want you to look at them.

8 comments

  1. gail

    i am liking these characters, they’re becoming funny and alive. and i am interested in where this goes

  2. Belatedly, so am I. Even reading backwards.

  3. I am so glad! Reading backwards sounds like quite a feat. Something on an IQ test or something a cop might require at a DUI checkpoint. I can’t seem to reconfigure things so that the order of the chapters is more chronological. I guess blogs are really set up for separate pieces, not one string… BUT THANK YOU FOR TRYING!!!

  4. I’m the kind of reader who only has to be interested in the characters. I like to at least like someone, but I don’t think that’s always a practical consideration when you decide who and what you want to write about. Your book isn’t a television show where there would be pressure to have characters that balance out the extremeness of Dr. House’s personality. I’m getting to like Drew a little because I have some sense of the pain that has contributed to her brittleness. I’m still curious about Mae. Lang has thrown me for a loop, but I’m like a baby that way. When somebody new appears, I back up a little until I figure out how I feel. I’m inching closer to her.

    The blog form can make it a little difficult to find the beginnings of stories. It’s a little work but I’m doing okay!

    PS: Did the questions at the end of this chapter, also get stuck into the middle of the story somehow, a few paragraphs above the beginning of the script?

    • Oops! You’re right, how did that get there? You know, I know what you mean about disparate pieces. I hope that the back-and-forth between characters becomes comfortable– like how a person acclimates to cold water– and that, once the pattern is established, it won’t feel so jerky. But with this blog, alas, I’m afraid that smoothness will never be achieved. Especially if I keep interrupting myself with bloggy eye candy. Oh well. Thanks for muddling through!!

  5. What exactly do you
    mean by sympathy?
    It’s strange that so
    many writers seem
    to worry about the
    wroung things – or
    least that’s how I feel,
    but then, I write about
    monsters. As a person
    who often finds animals
    more interesting then
    people I can say that
    too much hugging and
    kissing makes me barf.
    (Even when the scene
    does call for it.)

    Sometimes a lack of
    compassion can be
    refreshing –

    Unsympathetic is often used as a
    complement by some critics, though
    I’m not sure what they mean by it. I
    do feel sympathy for some of your
    characters – such as Drew. I don’t
    feel you are being judgmental of
    your characters, which makes your
    story approchable, do your characters
    have sympathy for eachother? Should
    they? How long have they really known
    eachother? I think you clearly expressed
    Drew’s concern for her dad and even
    her Mother, the relation ship she
    shares with the other characters is
    more business at this point. The suicide
    they speak of is occuring in a movie -
    It’s not like it just happened to
    anyone’s mother.

    in short it was a great chapter – very
    clear and uncluttered – a good complement
    to chapter two – Mae owns the stage and is
    in it to win it. However she does make one
    hell of entrence in chapter two – these two
    chapters are perfect for eachother – and
    heres my ranking – in the order of favorite
    to least favorite. I take two factors into
    consideration – how entertained I was,
    balenced with how easy I think it is to
    understand – Be warned – I am
    obvilious to grammer.

    2&4, then 3B, 3A, and 1

    I think it is more imporant
    to point out an author’s stroung
    suits then their weak ones – I hope
    to discover a pattern in my better
    matieral and learn recognise when
    I’m getting it right. I will compare
    this only to itself. :)

    .

  6. I don’t have to like, approve, agree with a character – only find that character authentic.

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